mcNeese.Alcorn Cyron Sutton

McNeese State Cowboys wide receiver Cyron Sutton (1) makes his way in for the TD as Alcorn State Braves defensive back Taurence Wilson (22) tries to hold on during the 1st half of their non-conference game at Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles, La., Saturday, Sept.14, 2019. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)

It’s become a familiar refrain for the McNeese State football team in victories.

Win, but win ugly.

The same scenario played out on Saturday night as McNeese jumped out to a 17-point lead and had to survive two late Alcorn touchdowns to defeat the Braves 17-14.

In McNeese’s nonconference finale, it was a tale of two halves. But the Cowboys (2-1) did enough early on to get the win despite going 1-for-15 on third-down conversions.

“Winning’s hard,” McNeese head coach Sterlin Gilbert said. “And we’re dang sure going to take that W over an L any day. We just talked about refocusing. Got to be better, got to be more consistent.”

It seemed like Alcorn had the upper hand after catching the first break when McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron fumbled the ball after it slipped out of his hand attempting a pass on the Cowboys’ first offensive play. But McNeese’s defense held, forcing a Braves three-and-out. Braves kicker Corey McCullough attempted a 44-yard field goal, but the kick went wide left, granting the Cowboys a reprieve.

The teams traded punts on the next two drives, then McNeese took the ball and mixed the run with the pass on a drive that wound up with Orgeron hitting wide receiver Cyron Sutton with a screen pass, which the New Orleans native took for a 19-yard touchdown, making a few defenders miss along the way for a 7-0 lead.

The teams alternated punts, then Alcorn committed its first of three first-half turnovers when it botched a handoff and McNeese linebacker Kody Fulp recovered the fumble. Three plays later, Orgeron found Trevor Begue for a 13-yard touchdown pass. McNeese took a 14-0 lead after the extra point.

After forcing another Alcorn (1-2) punt, it seemed like McNeese was going to drive = and score another touchdown. But the offense stalled once it reached the Braves 19-yard line and settled for a 37-yard Noah Anderson field goal to give the Cowboys a 17-0 lead.

As efficient as McNeese’s offense was early, it sputtered to end the first half. The last four first-half drives for the Cowboys were: turnover on downs, missed field goal attempt, punt and the end of the half. Mixed into that was a holding call wiping out what would have been a Sutton punt return for a touchdown and two Alcorn turnovers.

McNeese’s pass defense — which struggled in the first two games — did a solid job of shutting down Alcorn’s passing game, especially in the first half. Junior cornerback and Oakdale graduate Darion Dunn picked off two Felix Harper passes. Harper went into the game to replace starting quarterback starting quarterback Noah Johnson, who went down with an apparent head injury in the second quarter.

The Cowboys defense held the Braves to 32 passing yards on 4-of-12 passing with two interceptions.

On the last drive of the first half, after getting the ball back thanks to Dunn’s second interception, McNeese had the ball at midfield with two timeouts. After an incomplete pass and a 1-yard run, the Cowboys elected to go into halftime with the 17-0 lead instead of trying for another play.

Neither team could get anything going for most of the second half, with the team’s trading punts on eight consecutive drives in the third and fourth quarters.

Late in the game, with McNeese looking to run the clock out, Orgeron fumbled the ball and Alcorn recovered it on the Cowboys’ 32-yard line. But McNeese forced a 49-yard Alcorn field goal attempt, which McCullough missed wide left.

McNeese got the ball back and went three-and-out, After a delay-of-game penalty, the Cowboys committed a special teams blunder as Alcorn blocked a Bailey Raborn punt and recovered it. After a Cowboys’ personal-foul penalty put the ball at the McNeese 13, the Braves got on the scoreboard when Harper found Chris Blair for a 13-yard touchdown pass. A bad snap prevented the Braves from getting the extra point off, so McNeese’s lead was cut to 17-6 with less than 4 minutes to play.

After McNeese got the ball back, it got a first down thanks to an 11-yard Begue reception. But that was about all the Cowboys got on the drive and were forced to punt again. This time, the normally dependable Raborn shanked a 13-yard punt.

Alcorn got the ball and drove down the field again, with Harper finding Niko Duffey for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The Braves converted the 2-point conversion and cut McNeese’s lead to 17-14.

The Cowboys recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

“We feel good,” defensive lineman Cody Roscoe said. “We feel pretty good about the win because that’s all that mattered, winning. At the end of the day, all that matters is winning the game, and we just won a game versus a top team.”

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